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History of American Towns- Nauvoo,IL legacy of Mormons in Illinois

Updated on October 22, 2015

Joseph mustering Nauvoo legion

public domain
public domain

Nauvoo, Illinois

Nauvoo is an interesting place for anyone who cares about American History or religion. Although the population of Nauvoo is largely Catholic it is an important place for the Church of Latter Day Saints A rebuilding project was started in 1999. Nauvoo restoration Inc. first rebuilt Mormon homes and shops and called it “Williamsburg of the Midwest.”

Nauvoo is on a wide bend in the Mississippi river, with most of the historic district in the lower flat lands that are only several feet above the water line. A prominent hill rises as one moves further east, and at its apex stands the rebuilt Nauvoo temple. Beginning with the temple the land continues flat for many miles.

I don’t recall when we first found Nauvoo but it was several years earlier than that. We lived in Viola, Illinois and often took short trips following the Mississippi River. At the time they were just starting to rebuild some of the old Mormon buildings outside of the part of town that was lived in. I remember it was pouring rain at the time and everything was wet and muddy. We visited some Mormon sites in Illinois and Missouri years before. We visited the Browning gun shop at Nauvoo, which I understood was just restored . I had not known that Browning was Mormon so I was surprised to find it there. There was also a theater in which we saw a stage play, which they call a pageant about the early Mormons being forced o leave their homes and move West.

In the town itself I only recall an old hotel which looked like an interesting place for dining but we never got around to trying it. There was an order of nuns, The Sisters of St. Benedict, that had a convent there and many old buildings typical of a river town.

Massika and Wakusassee

public domain--a Sauk and Fox indian
public domain--a Sauk and Fox indian

Burning of the Temple

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public domain


In the late 1700’s Sauk and Fox Indians had a large village of over 1,000 lodges along the Mississippi near what later became Nauvoo.. Around 1823 Captain James White bought the village from Sauk leader Quashquame. The Indians moved to the other side of the river and merged with a Sauk village near the current Montrose, Iowa.

Later, in 1841, Joseph Smith, Jr. was visited by Sauk and Fox Indians from the Iowa village. According to Smith, the Indians refused to come on shore from the ferry boat until he came. Accordingly he went down and met with about one hundred chiefs and braves with their families. He discussed the Mormon religion with them and they then had a feast and dancing by the Indians. I believe that Indians and Mormons have shared religious experiences from time to time.

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, as the Mormons are officially known, fled Missouri after the 1838 Mormon War. Joseph Smith, Jr. was the Prophet and president of the Church o Jesus Christ of the Latter day saints had been kept in prison in Missouri but was allowed to escape. He joined the others in the town of Commerce which was mostly swampland. He renamed the town Nauvoo, meaning “to be beautiful.”

The city grew and prospered. Joseph Smith even ran for president advocating for a “Theodemocracy”. However as Mormons prospered and population grew the non-Mormons in Hancock County, especially in Warsaw and Carthage were bothered by the political power or the Mormon bloc-voting. Joseph Smith, Jr. was president of the church, Mayor head of the municipal court and general of the Militia.

In the meantime some Missouri officials wanted to extradite Smith and arrest him on charges relating to the 1838 Mormon War.

Within the church also there was dissatisfaction over perceived theocracy. William Law broke with the church and was excommunicated. He founded the reformed church called the true Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Smith also held a meeting of the cit council and Smith’s militia wrecked the press and destroyed every copy of the Nauvoo Expositor published by Law.

Smith’s death

When some demanded Smith’s arrest, he and others submitted to the arrest Unfortunately a vigilante mob attacked the jail and assassinated Smith.

Agitation against Mormons continued leading to what has been called the “Mormon War in Illinois.” Eventually it led to the Mormons, under the guidance of Brigham Young, to move west to Utah.

The widow of Joseph, . Emma Hale Smith, , stayed in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith III claimed to receive a revelation that he should be Prophet/President of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It latter became known as the Community of Christ.

Smith moved to Plano, Illinois in 1866. They later moved to Independence, Missouri. I did see the temple there and I thought it was huge.


Catholics in Nauvoo

In addition to the importance to the Latter day saints, Nauvoo is important to its Catholic popultaion as well.In 1874 Sister Ottilia Hoeveler and four other nuns came from Chicago to start a girls school--St. Scholastica. It started with seven girls from the area. A few years later the convent became independent from Chicago and became St. Mary’s. The school became St. Mary’s Academy. Later a boys school was also started. In the 1950’s the new buildings were added. The town is largely Catholic today.

After the 1960’s enrollment declined and St. Mary’s Academy was closed in 1997. It was sold and used as the Joseph Smith Academy until 2006.

© 2010 Don A. Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading and commenting on the hub.

    • markjayharris profile image

      Mark Jay Harris 

      4 years ago from Smithfield, Utah

      Thanks for the hub! Great information!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thank you for the comment. I am glad you liked it. I find the Mormon people and their history interesting. I am not familiar with Far West. Nauvoo we found more or less by accident and not necessarily the best circumstances.

      Much earlier than this I was moving to Kansas City I stopped where the site of the Jail where Smith was held.

      My knowledge was gained piecemeal. I still don't always know the history from the misrepresentations.

      I rather liked the town and thought it might be nice to live in, however my wife does not like the humid climate there.

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 

      8 years ago from Iowa

      Dahoglund, thank you for this well-written and even-handed history of Nauvoo. Most Mormons who write about Nauvoo cast it as an unsettled wilderness with no history. Much of what happened in Nauvoo was pivotal to the history of the LDS people so Nauvoo is well-known to a large population of Mormons who have never visited that area of the country. Joseph Smith was the Mayor, the Prophet, and the Army General. He was in charge of everything and in every way. I especially enjoyed hearing in your article what happened to Nauvoo after the Mormons left with Brigham Young.

      I think if my facts are straight, at one time Nauvoo had a population over 12,000 in the 1840s.

      My husband's parents lived in Nauvoo about 8 years ago for a 12-month mission at the temple, which is an operational temple for the LDS church. They loved the area and cherish their memories of the place. That is such a beautiful area of the country and I would love living there.

      Have you visited Far West in Iowa? That was one of the staging points of the LDS migration from Illinois to Utah.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      I'm glad you find it informative. I've lived near the Mississippi river most of my life and there seems to be something special about river towns. Thanks for commenting.

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      8 years ago

      I was totally unaware of the history of Nauvoo thanks for a great history of the different facets, the native Americans, the Mormons and the Catholics.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thanks for visiting and commenting. I din't know about the Winery We ran across the town more or less by accident and it was not under the best conditions for visiting. That might have been the real meaning of Mississippi Mud that day.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      I liked the place. I have not been there since they restored it. I hope it has not lost the feel of a place where real people live and work.Thanks ffor commenting.

    • kingis profile image

      Patrick King 

      8 years ago from Springfield, IL

      I have never been to Nauvoo but I do know they have a very good winery there.

    • eovery profile image


      8 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      Nauvoo is a great place. I have visited it a few times. There is so much of the church history there.

      Keep on hubbing!


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